Manipur: The Root Causes Of The Conflict


The causes of the current clashes in Manipur, northeast India, are linked to the history of the region: ethnic identity, availability of weapons, influx of refugees from Myanmar, the drug trade and the role of women. This is not just a religious conflict and it is difficult to envision a stable peaceful resolution at this time.

The burial site of those killed in recent months has become a source of tension leading to renewed violence between the Kuki and Meitei communities. Land in a “buffer zone” has been proposed for the burial of the bodies. The High Court of Manipur demanded the strict geographical separation guaranteed by the presence of the Indian army.

The inter-ethnic violence that erupted on May 3, 2023 after the proposal to include the Meitei among the tribes in India who, according to government programs, are entitled to subsidies and quotas in education and public administration as underprivileged populations.

Described as an inter-religious conflict – the Kuki are predominantly Christian and the Meitei predominantly Hindu – it is in fact a confrontation in which several elements are intertwined: ethnic identity, availability of arms, influx of refugees from Myanmar, drug trafficking and important role played by women in the clashes, revealed after the broadcast of a video 4 May.

A first historical reason

The current situation has its origins in the administrative division of Manipur during and after the British colonial period, explains journalist Samrat Choudhury, author of the book Northeast India. “The British exercised indirect control over parts of India because the country was divided into princely states, including Manipur.

“During colonization, it was led by Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh, in charge of defense and foreign relations,” explains the expert. “At the time of independence in 1947, the king had first signed an agreement to maintain the autonomy of the kingdom, but, summoned to Delhi, his principality was merged with the rest of the Indian territory. »

Manipur only became a state in 1972. Thereafter, northeastern India experienced a different historical course from the rest of the country: “In the 1950s, political unrest broke out. Concessions were granted, but the extremist fringes had lost confidence in the Indian government and gave birth to armed groups”.

These groups, often Maoist-inspired, plagued the northeastern state with their insurgency until the early 2000s, Choudhury said. There was a long militarization, with the constant presence of the Indian army, which imposed martial law and curfews.

A geographical reason

Manipur is divided between the hilly regions of the south – where the Kuki and the Nagas have always lived – and the valley, occupied by the Meitei, who represent more than 50% of the population. Today, the Meitei claim to be the only true heirs of the princely state, and they attack the Kukis accusing them of being “illegal migrants” or “drug traffickers”.

Migration from Myanmar, where a brutal conflict has been raging for more than two years, has complicated the situation, as the refugees – mostly of the Chin ethnicity – are ethnically similar to the Kukis. “It is for this reason that there have been tensions since 2021”, adds Samrat Choudhury.

Accusations that the Kukis are involved in drug trafficking are largely unfounded: “All ethnic groups are involved in drug trafficking, money has no community,” he points out. “The biggest drug traffickers are concentrated in urban centers. Politicians or the police are often involved in traffic management.”

A religious reason

“In the Kuki and Meitei communities, there are a lot of Christians,” although the Hindus are predominantly Meitei, Choudhury said. The violence erupted over a community issue – the allocation of resources by the state – commented Mr. Choudhury, comparing the situation to Hispanic or African-American communities in the United States.

The Delhi government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party from which Prime Minister Narendra Modi hails, and which also heads the Manipur administration, has failed to act to end the clashes. “It is difficult to predict what might happen now: the ethnic groups of Manipur are also present in other states, and the conflict could break out again in the same way in other parts of the north-eastern part of the country. India. »

Currently, several security forces have been deployed, siding with one or the other community, and crowds of women are preventing the army from intervening. Women have always been very active, to the point of organizing armed uprisings. Today, the feminist organization Meira Paibis of the Meitei community plays a leading role.

According to some, this organization incites men to violence against the Kuki tribes. What is certain is that the recent clashes have shaken Manipur and it seems increasingly complicated to return to a peaceful coexistence between the communities which will only be possible with a major political intervention.

This article is originally published on


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